Interview, photo: Elena Savlokhova
The blood whispers a myriad of sensations as you cross the threshold of the aural tale Michael Wollenhaupt bestows on you. Whether a long awaited album or a DJ set – the music of Ancient Methods reaches the most hidden depths of your being and transcdends you into a state of rapturous infinity. You reach a place where the state of complete awareness intersects with a world that seems so wondrously other. It’s a whirl of somatic mayhem and spiritual serenity. It purifies the soul and elevates the mind. It creates an ethereal abyss where the only thing of importance is your absolute surrender to the cosmic bliss of sound.
Get "The Jericho Records" here.
You’ve witnessed the nightlife culture in a lot of countries. What makes Berlin unique or what makes other places unique?
Speaking from an artist’s point of view only and focusing on the nightlife aspects I think I observe a lot of similarities. If you only look at the party itself, the differences are not that big. When I DJ at places and when I start a set I check out what the crowd is up for and I try to figure out the different ways that people react. It’s a little bit like exploring the place. But speaking about Berlin in particular, it is difficult to generalize. Given its size, I think Berlin has a unique diversity: there are places where you feel that you can basically play whatever you want to, you don’t need to explore what the crowd is up for that much. But I had similar experiences in very small towns in France or Italy, where people are very open. I have a feeling that such places are less saturated with parties, the crowd is young and hungry for music, very appreciative, and therefore open. This leads me to the flip side of Berlin, where you can go out every evening and sometimes I have a feeling that the crowd is pretty selective, people have a specific image of the night or the sound. It makes it, on the one hand, a bit easier to rely on expectations. But it can be a double edge sword if you fail to live up to these specific expectations.
So it’s like you cannot surprise Berliners?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. It depends what you make out of it. Surprise comes from expectations. The difference is that in Berlin people might have a very specific picture of the artist, of who you are, what you play, what to expect from you. It’s also still a possibility to disappoint some people because they might’ve heard it already or they expected something entirely different. Like I said – it’s a double edged sword. For me personally, I try to avoid repetition as much as possible, if I return to a city I try to alter the DJ-set and cut out all tracks I’ve already played there, unless the situation is begging for a track that needs to be dropped that moment. In Berlin this is much more difficult, since I play mostly long sets here and quite frequently.
Do you think that music is a way to escape everyday life?
Sort of. I can only speak for myself, but for sure it is sort of an escape – and at the same time it is my everyday life. It’s an occasion to disconnect from ‘regular’ daytime responsibilities, when you can just go into a club and let yourself go. Music is all about associations and what they do with you. You can use it as an escape from things that surround you in everyday life. In any case, regardless of the occasion, this is what music should do – it should uplift your mind.
If you could have a conversation with any historical or famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
That’s a difficult question since picking someone now isn’t exactly a natural way I would approach a conversation. As a reflex I notionally browse my favourite musicians, directors, and authors, but it does not necessarily mean that these are great partners for a conversation. Being able to relate on a personal level is more important than my admiration for someone. For example, I’m not sure whether I could have a good conversation with someone very artistically minded. It also depends on the subject of the conversation a lot.
If you could travel in time where would you go and why?
I’m certainly not fancy seeing the future. I’m not sure I even have a certain preference where I would go. I think every era has interesting aspects, if I think just of my hometown (Berlin), then the 20’s of the last century, for example, might be a fascinating time to travel to.
Most of your interviews mention a ‘darkness’ in your music. Is this so-called ‘darkness’ a reflection of something within yourself?
I don’t consider my music dark, although I know that people classify it as ‘dark’. It’s a mere matter of perception. Above all, music has to move me emotionally. I remember as a child, when I discovered music for the first time, I was impressed by tunes that felt very emotional to me. And, for example, my parents would say: “What kind of sad music are you listening to?”. But I never felt it was sad music. On the other hand, music that some people would consider as ‘happy music’, was never really touching me, it left me cold. I felt that if music had an emotional element or impact on me, then it was what other people around me would consider ‘dark’ or ‘melancholic’. And certainly these listening habits influenced my music. Still I think my music is first and foremost very rhythmic and therefore pretty neutral in terms of emotion, but maybe there are a lot of subliminal emotions hidden. And this would maybe somehow mirror my personality – sober semblance covering the emotional core.
You’ve mentioned that you like the early work of David Lynch. Lynch believes that everything in life is absurd. Would you agree with him?
At least a lot of things are. You need to take a break to realize it though. Mankind is destroying its basis of life and we spend a lot of time on fighting each other. It sounds pathetic to address, but if you take a moment and think about it, and consider the short time frame of existence – you realize the absurdity of this waste. I’m not free from practicing the absurd neither, I live the ‘strange carnival of life’, or like he called it – the daily rat race of daytime jobs, hunting for money to save for pension and all that. Many times it felt to me a bit like the absurd life of that guy who wants to send a rocket into space, and spends his entire life building and improving the perfect launch pad for that purpose, but who will never manage to actually launch the rocket into space during his lifetime. I’m very ‘sober’ and rational, my life is proper ‘German’ – all about structures. Some of them are certainly absurd or questionable but they pretend security.
Your day job [attorney at law] seems completely opposite from your music activity. How do you combine the two? How do they coexist and balance each other out?
Lately it became tough to manage both. I have very little rest: I work throughout the week in both jobs and then I travel weekends, whereas some artists can use the week to catch up on sleep, work on their music etc. Luckily, I’m in a position where I have a lot of freedom, flexibility, so at least I manage to avoid both jobs interfering with each other too much. But of course the insane workload is affecting me health-wise. On the other hand, I enjoy keeping music quite independent from money-aspects. I feel very comfortable that I have a solid foundation to cover all daily expenses, which gives me complete freedom to do the music I want. Besides the financial aspects, the combination actually feeds me creatively. It’s like with other passions in life, if you can’t spend much time on it, due to other commitments – you’re going to get more and more hungry for it. I feel that when I have less time to go to the studio and do music and I’m really starving for it, then it sparks my creativity.
What does it feel like to acknowledge having power over a crowd on the dancefloor and being able to set a certain vibe?
I feel it is a power that gives both a scope to guide and a responsibility. At least when I DJ I see myself equally as someone who is artistically expressing himself and also as a service provider. I don’t like a ‘take it or leave (it)’ approach, since it is a very selfish and somewhat of an elitist way to DJ, but likewise I despise crowd-pleasing at all costs. And it’s sort of a communication – to come to a true exchange with people, it has to be give and take. A great DJ gig doesn’t feel like a compromise between two opposites, it’s a unity of artistic expression and people’s satisfaction.
What would be the last film you would watch before dying?
Since we’ve been talking about David Lynch, I would certainly watch his film “The Elephant Man”. It’s very simple and emotionally maybe even a little bit over the top, but it condenses so many basic, yet essential things about humans, about life and benevolence. I think it would be a good reference to reflect on your own life and how you have lived it.
What topics fascinate you outside of music?
I really like to read a lot. I wish I had way more time for that though. I love literature and movies. That’s where most of my music inspiration comes from.
Any particular book you could point out?
That would make a long list! Depends why you want to read. I read a lot of classics and if you ask me for favorites I would inevitably point out Hermann Hesse’s work, who left a deep impression on me, more than any other author. If you take his novel “Demian”, for example, it is a document of an unmatched ability that puts you in a very precise, almost tangible emotional state or connection with the protagonists, yet it still opens another world between the lines – a space you can fill with unsettling premonition, positive Weltschmerz and hidden surreal intimations. The language is incredibly beautiful, like a painting, you want to watch or read it over and over again, it is incredibly powerful without being artsy or histrionic.
What is one of the best gigs you’ve ever been to?
I think my first Dead Can Dance concert. It was their reunion tour in 2005 and I traveled to Munich to see them. For the most time of my life now they’ve been my favourite band, they own a godlike state. And of course, given the high expectations, I was afraid of ending up disappointed. But this concert was certainly in every aspect, like the band itself, just on another level. It’s just not comparable to anything else in music. Afterwards I think I couldn’t listen to any other music for two or three days.
Do you hear music in ordinary mundane things quite often?
Of course, like when you are at home and you hear the rhythmic loops of the dishwasher, and naturally you’d layer the imaginary bassdrum over it. But I’m not so enthusiastic about it, I only sampled my old fridge once for the track ‘My Ice Baby’, but that’s about it. The city surrounds you with a lot of these noisy or rhythmic elements, but I’m not very attentive and mostly rather annoyed by it. The perfect sound for me is on top of the mountain when you literally hear nothing. It is a very rare sound and it almost hurts your ears – to suddenly hear nothing. I find silence much more fascinating than daily urban noises.
What do you like and dislike about getting older?
With age I can sense the size of a year much more clearer and by now this made me in a very tangible way realize, that I will not have all the time I wish I had: to spend it with my beloved ones, to materialize all the projects that are in my head, to read all the books I want to read, explore all the music, study all the things I’m interested in, and so on. It might sound sad, but it’s actually not, it’s rather a nice confidence that I won’t get bored some day. Something I really like about getting older is that I became much more indifferent to things I should have been more indifferent earlier, and this way I got so much more relaxed. When I was younger I worried about a lot of things, I was insecure or easily embarrassed, I paid too much attention to other people’s opinions. I learned which things do matter in the end and I learned to appreciate the great benefits of indifference towards the things that do not.
What are you trying to convey to humanity with The Jericho Records and what world do you aim to create for the audience with the live shows?
I don’t know if there is enough substance for a message aside the documentary approach of the album. I think it is in some ways reflecting 10 years of work on the project, which I hope can be seen as building bridges rather than building walls. Apart from this self-reflecting statement everyone is welcome to extract or perceive the album however they see it, and discover whatever one will find in it.
What is your fascination with the biblical and what makes it a recurring theme in your work?
It is actually just a tiny part from the Old Testament, namely the Jericho story that has become a visual and metaphorical leitmotiv for the project and its work. Other than that there are no direct biblical influences on my work.
What was the most challenging part in the process of creating your debut album? Would you say that you are contented with the final result?
It was challenging to ignore some self-imposed time pressure. I started to write the first tracks for it about five years ago but never really focused on the album solely. For example, I never took a few month off from other duties to dedicate myself to the album only. I guess for some people it became sort of a running gag to ask me about the progress on the album. But looking back I think it was good not trying to finish it within a certain time frame. I enjoyed and derived a lot of inspirational energy from all the other projects I did in the meantime. It was also important to have the time to step back, re-evaluate the interim results, and not being forced to compromise to a deadline. Over a long period I worked on different tracks in parallel, which I think helped to keep the album sound-wise coherent, despite the large time-span of its creation. However, I’m not denying that at some point I got worried if I would ever finish it and I took the conscious decision to take all the time it will need to have the desired result, even if it would mean I don’t end up releasing it at all. Weirdly from that moment on it all went comparatively fast. Having said all this, I am happy with the result. In particular, the last weeks on the home stretch were an intense workload, but to get all former collaborators on board and to work with Trine + Kim Design Studio who did an amazing job on the artwork – it was truly rewarding.
What have you learned through Ancient Methods both on a personal and professional level?
On a professional level I’ve learned that it is important not to compromise. On a personal level I’ve learned that it is not easy to follow this insight.
What question would you want to be asked at an interview and what would your answer be?
What do you think about life? It’s different, sometimes.
Music will tear down walls.
*See you in Closer, Kiev, at Worn Pop's 5 Year Anniversary Black Factory 2018*